Medicine and Video Games: A New Approach to Engaging Diabetic Patients

Part one of a five part series on the 2014 AAMC Clinical Care Innovation Challenge Pilot Award Winners


Imagine this video game scenario:  a player explores a small town participating in everyday activities aimed to help them better understand and manage type 2 diabetes.  The player wanders into the local town café, and is asked to pick out a snack that is suitable to their dietary needs.

Dapper, the online video game that seeks to improve the health of type 2 diabetic patients

If the player picks a snack that does not match their dietary needs, a pop-up window provides information about the snack and the reasons that it is not appropriate to consume. This video game is real, and its name is Dapper.

Amanda Wright, MD , a family medicine physician at University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria and UnityPoint Health Methodist, knew that Dapper would be a challenge, but her passion for improving the health of patients with type 2 diabetes was all she needed to lead the project.

“Dapper has changed the way many residents look at quality improvement. Residents who worked on this project now see that an unlimited amount of possibilities and changes can come from thinking outside of the box,” said Wright. “Most important, it gave residents the opportunity to obtain real-life experience with working on teams outside of the hospital staff, and to have hands-on involvement in every phase of the project.”

A project supported by the Association of American Medical Colleges through the 2014 Clinical Care Innovation Challenge (CCIC) Pilot Award, Dapper was created and designed through a interdisciplinary partnership with UnityPoint Health Methodist/University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria and Bradley University. The project team was  comprised of professionals from multiple disciplines and fields, including physicians (both residents and attending), medical students, undergraduate students, faculty, dieticians, nurses, graphic designers, game designers, and business professionals.

To assist in developing the game, the team conducted focus groups to obtain patient feedback about how they receive information about managing their condition and its usefulness, the challenges they face in managing their condition, and their level of interest in using a video game as a vehicle to help them in managing their condition on a daily basis.

Drawing upon the attractive features used in social media games, Dapper incorporates type 2 diabetes health information to increase players’ awareness and educational levels and leverages motivational theories to improve players’ lifestyle choices related to their health. The game is structured so each player works with a team of medical staff (physician, nurse, and dietician); medical staff players can be members of multiple teams. The team serves as resource and support for players in making right decisions about their health throughout their game activity.

Currently, residents at UnityPoint Health Methodist/University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria are looking to further develop the game and possibly transform it into an app for mobile devices and tablets.


Amanda Wright, MD, was a recipient of the 2014 Association of American Medical Colleges Clinical Care Innovation Challenge Pilot Award. If you are interested in obtaining more information about this project, another CCIC project, or the awards program, please email The application period for the 2016 Clinical Care Innovation Challenge Awards will open on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 and close Friday, November 13, 2015.